San Jose residents demand better care of Tamien Park
A wide-angle picture of the park. Photo courtesy of Brett Bymaster.

After more than three decades fighting for a public park, residents in a struggling San Jose neighborhood got one. But three weeks later, the grass withered and turned brown.

The Tamien Park Soccer Field opened in early June in the city’s low-income Guadalupe-Washington neighborhood. Just three weeks later, the park had fallen into a state of disrepair. A group of residents blame a mixture of sand placed in the field for killing the grass just three weeks later.

“I would like the park to be available to us, so that we can take our children to the park,” resident Merly Abigail told San José Spotlight in Spanish through an interpreter. “They can’t be sad and frustrated at home.”

A photo collage shows the changes in the grass in a matter of weeks. Photo courtesy of Brett Bymaster.

A group of residents in 2013 lobbied for the creation of the park — a movement that had begun 35 years ago according to some in the neighborhood. They convinced the San Jose Unified School District to file a lawsuit against Rocketship Education, a chain of charter schools that sought to build a third campus at the park site, to block construction of the project.

The city first opened Tamien Park in 2017, named after the indigenous people of the Ohlone reservation. State grants and city funds totaling $3.9 million went into adding a basketball court, shaded areas, a playground and benches. The park opened what it called its “second phase” in June, which included adding the large soccer field, a jogging track and an outdoor stage.

“We were there at the opening. It was beautiful,” said Brett Bymaster, director of Healing Grove Health Center, a health clinic in the Guadalupe-Washington neighborhood. Bymaster, along with resident Maria Marcelos, pushed for the park and were named by the city as stakeholders at its opening.

Today the grass isn’t as brown as it once was, but there are many divots — loose pieces of dug-up grass and dirt.

Tamien Park on Nov. 13, 2021. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

“It’s a nice park, clean and everything is there. They need to fix the field,” resident Elias Girma told San José Spotlight. Girma brings his two kids to the park every week for walks. “It’s not smooth, but other than that, I’m not going to complain about it.”

A representative from the city’s parks department and the councilmember for the district, Raul Peralez, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Residents plan to send letters to the City Council urging the city to take better care of the soccer field. Part of their request is to make sure people who live near fields in low-income communities like Washington-Guadalupe get first choice in reserving parks.

“If Tamien is closed, we don’t have any open spaces in our community,” Bymaster said.

According to the group, since June, the park has been reserved several times a week by a soccer group from outside the community, making it difficult for people in the Guadalupe-Washington neighborhood to use the field.

“We worked so hard to find a special place for the community, and now it’s not available,” Maria Marcelo, community engagement director at the Healing Grove Health Center, told San José Spotlight.

 

For some residents, the park and its once-lush green field meant a place where they could forget their worries and play. For 14-year-old Eligio Gil, it’s a place that helped with his depression.

“I was about 250 pounds when this park came, and now I’m like around 190,” said Gil, a resident of Guadalupe-Washington who used the soccer field and park for exercise. “It’s helped a lot. I can actually go to a park and play and meet new kids there.”

Bymaster said the city has taken some steps to address the field conditions, such as meeting with the group and using new watering processes for the grass. He is still pushing to change the field reservation system to ensure low-income communities of color near Tamien Park are prioritized first.

“This is about us getting access to our own public resources so we can improve the lives of our young community,” Bymaster said.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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